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Grief and Bereavement

Grief is a response that occurs after losing someone or something important. For example, people might grieve following divorce, the loss of a job, a change in health status, retirement, death of a loved one. Bereavement describes the pain and sadness that is experienced specifically following the death of a loved one. Grief is part of the bereavement process.

The bereavement process is unique and personal to each individual. Common symptoms include sadness, anger and guilt, and perhaps shock and emotional numbness. Sleep difficulties and appetite changes are common, as is difficulty with concentration and reduced desire for social engagement. Many people describe a deep sense of loneliness during this time.

There is no set time for the bereavement process; it can last from months to years, and can vary in intensity over time. Generally, grief symptoms will occur less often and feel less intense over time. However, even this is not always the case. Grief can become complicated, and make it difficult to engage in day to day living. Also, people can experience brief periods of intense distress within the bereavement process. The bereavement process can be impacted by age, gender and personality, the availability of social support, and whether or not the death was expected.

In many cultures and religions there are rituals that support a person in their grief, yet these rituals are often short lived. Similarly, employers may offer a few days to two weeks of bereavement time off, suggesting that after this period of grieving, a person should be able to transition back to normal life activities without challenge. However, more often than not, this is not the case. Bereavement often requires significant time to process the pain associated with the death and to figure out how to live life without the person who has died.

Psychotherapy is an effective form of support as one moves through the bereavement process. Having the support of a therapist who can be present and hold space for your grief, as well as offer tools to keep the process moving, can be extraordinarily helpful.